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Net neutrality and its effect on VoIP users

Dec. 7, 2018
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In July 2018, India's Telecom Commission agreed to implement the net neutrality framework. This means that internet service providers are no longer allowed to block or grant higher speeds to a certain service or online content.

India's net neutrality rules came into play at approximately the same time the U.S. scrapped its own rules, meaning that India now has stronger net neutrality policies than the U.S.

The current state of net neutrality in the U.S.

The decision of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to scrap the net neutrality rules was met with vehement opposition from most industries. The FCC has stated that the federal government will no longer micromanage the internet; instead, it would require ISPs to be transparent about their practices.

The move has introduced a lot of uncertainties, with industries and consumers fearing that ISPs would begin to charge extra for carrying certain traffic and limiting the speed of services that refuse to pay up. However, there are hopes that India's recent move will increase the determination of U.S. states to create their own rules to replace the scrapped federal net neutrality rules.

Net neutrality and VoIP

With the FCC voiding U.S. net neutrality framework, ISPs are now at liberty to throttle or limit internet traffic at will. Although this state of events is sure to lead to court battles and challenges, it will significantly impact the VoIP industry.

The net neutrality framework prevented ISPs from slowing or speeding up the internet traffic of consumers based on variables such as provider, destination, service type and so on. Such rules meant that internet speed remained constant no matter the service being used, whether streaming videos from YouTube or movies from Netflix.

The rules also protected enterprises, enabling all business traffic (including pictures, voice, audio, videos, documents and others) to travel to their destination at a constant speed. The scrapping of the federal net neutrality rules in the U.S. will have a tremendous impact on individuals, businesses and enterprises.

ISPs are now at liberty to charge content providers like Netflix or Amazon to ensure that their content reaches the devices of end users. They could also choose to deliver internet access to end users in bundles similar to that of cable TVs.

With no net neutrality rules in place, ISPs could charge end users and content providers additional fees to carry the same type and volume of traffic as they did previously. This means that consumers and businesses will have to pay for no additional value or quality of service.

Why net neutrality is important for VoIP

Although most arguments on net neutrality are focused on consumer websites like Netflix and Amazon, net neutrality also protected other industries as well. Users of enterprise VoIP services enjoyed the same speeds that were available to other kinds of internet traffic.

Net neutrality rules ensured that ISPs couldn't charge VoIP consumers extra to route voice traffic. This meant that users only paid hosted VoIP vendors for features that provided better quality video conferencing and audio calling. However, the scrapping of the rules is going to change all that.

The impact on service providers and the VoIP industry

The death of the net neutrality rules will adversely impact both the VoIP industry and the delivery of VoIP services. Currently, the VoIP market is laboring under stiff competition and low prices. If ISPs begin to charge extra to carry VoIP traffic, providers will have to pay up; else they risk having their traffic moved to the slow lane.

Since VoIP communication operates in real-time, such an occurrence will negatively affect consumer experience. Also, providers have no way to mask slow speeds (the way videos buffer before playing).

VoIP hosted providers will need to choose between paying the extra charges or having their user experience degraded.

If they pay up, they'll eventually pass on the extra cost to consumers, forcing the price of VoIP services to go up. This could result in a massive loss of clients, causing many providers to go out of business.

The impact on enterprise users

The end of net neutrality will affect organizations that use VoIP services or intend to do so. The extra fees that will be paid by hosted providers to ISPs will be added to the monthly payments for VoIP services. Also, ISPs may charge organizations extra for carrying voice traffic over their networks.

Although the price difference may seem minuscule, the cumulative effect will be enormous, especially for businesses that use video conferencing to substitute for business trips or have a large number of employees (who need to make thousands of calls each day).

The impact is worse in instances where VoIP traffic will need to move through various ISP networks before getting to its destination. Hosted providers may need to sign contracts with all these ISPs and pay extortionate charges to each one to allow the carriage of voice traffic over their networks.

Remote employees

There will also be additional consequences if your organization has remote workers, management staff and employees who use VoIP services outside your corporate network. After negotiating QoS contracts between various ISPs and your VoIP service provider, employees who use VoIP services outside your corporate network may not enjoy the benefits of such agreements.

Employees on business trips may still experience bad audio and video quality if they join a video conferencing call from a hotel room. Remote staff who work from client sites or their homes might be unable to take or make calls if the ISPs that route traffic to their location didn't sign a contract with their organization.

Furthermore, the expected price increases would mean that smaller businesses may be unable to afford VoIP services. Such increased prices would whittle down the savings that accrue to companies when they shift to VoIP. With the end of net neutrality, businesses that leverage VoIP would have to review their choices.

Conclusion

In essence, the scrapping of the U.S. net neutrality rules would bring the entire future of VoIP into question. It could also impact the double-digit growth forecasts for various VoIP industry segments, causing a dramatic slowdown of the whole industry.

Although the technology will remain somewhat viable, there will be significant changes to the industry's current landscape and disposition.

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Posted by: Brandon Bazemore

Brandon Bazemore

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